Switzerland has four official languages and consists of four distinct cultural regions. At just under 25%, the country’s corporative and non-corporative foreign population is high by European standards. The principle of cultural diversity is of great importance in Switzerland in view of the coexistence of diverse languages and cultures in what is a relatively confined geographical area. Fostering cultural diversity is integral to the self-image and core remit of all the country’s cultural institutions.
Article 1 of the new Culture Promotion Act, which came into force on 1 January 2012, stresses the need to foster cultural diversity: it emphasises both exchange between cultural and linguistic communities in Switzerland as well as cultural exchange abroad. The definition of aims in Article 3 of the same Act highlights the strengthening of cohesion and of cultural diversity in Switzerland, as well as providing its population with access to culture, and facilitating such access. Accordingly, Article 8 prioritises especially those projects which enable or facilitate access to culture, and that contribute to the safeguarding or development of cultural or linguistic diversity.
In 2008, Switzerland ratified the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions of 20 October 2005, and the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of 17 October 2003. Both conventions are reactions to the tendency toward the standardisation and impoverishment of cultures as a result of the influence of globalisation. They commit the signatory states to foster cultural diversity and safeguard the intangible cultural heritage even more strongly than before, and call upon them to engage in enhanced international cooperation, specifically by supporting the UNESCO funds.
The Federal Office of Culture plays an important part in integrating cultural minorities into Swiss society. For this reason, it has played an instrumental role in developing a new Languages Act (2010), which has been enacted to give precedence to the fact that Switzerland is a multilingual and multi-ethnic society. The Section for Culture and Society of the Federal Office of Culture is among other activities dedicated to promoting and safeguarding cultural diversity by supporting cultural organisations of national importance.
Pro Helvetia‘s statutory mission is to support those activities which promote mutual understanding among the different cultural communities. Its Literature and Society Section supports not only literary creation but also cultural projects with social and political contents, and projects that further understanding between different regional, linguistic, and ethnic communities in Switzerland, such as the translation of Swiss literature from one into another national language of Switzerland. In the areas of cultural mediation, every day and folk culture, and intercultural dialogue, Pro Helvetia provides financial support to pilot projects by application, but also initiates projects in close cooperation with other cultural institutions.
By pursuing the transversal theme of “Living Traditions”, the 4 main federal actors are seeking to contribute to the appreciation of cultural traditions in Switzerland, and thus to cultural diversity. The envisaged measures include committing lay organisations supported by the federal government to the aims of the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, making visible living traditions through the efforts of the Federal Office of Culture, promoting encounters between contemporary and traditional culture, fostering regional cultural initiatives through the efforts of Pro Helvetia, hosting an exhibition on “Dialects” at the National Library, and cooperation between the Swiss National Museum and young craftspeople to help convey traditional craftsmanship to a wider audience.
Both active and passive access to art and culture are an important element of social integration and a prerequisite for social participation. Switzerland has a highly developed cultural infrastructure.
Cultural diversity, access to culture, cultural exchange, and the promotion of culture in general are increasingly understood as joint, partnership-based tasks of the federal government, cantons, communes, and private bodies. The federal government focuses on close partnership given that the cantons and communes meet the lion’s share of public funding for culture, and given that the federal government only has partial and subsidiary constitutional powers. This explains why the federal government has initiated the National Dialogue on Culture (see chapter 1.1).
In most of the larger cities, special departments and public-private initiatives attend to cultural minorities in a variety of ways. They consider the most diverse forms of integration instrumental to sustainable, urban social policy. Socio-cultural services in the various city districts play a key role in this respect.